Farewell to the Black Music Awards

The 17th annual Minnesota Black Music Awards and Expo holds its last-ever three-day blowout this weekend, so nab the $50 all-access pass while you can. After launching the MBMA 17 years ago with performances by Prince and The Time, founders Pete and Kimberly Rhodes turned their yearly event into a forum to showcase and workshop new talent. Yet over the years the festival has become increasingly difficult to maintain.

"The market has changed, and it's difficult to get sponsorship for this kind of program," says Pete Rhodes, while also pointing to a shrinking pool of both artists and supportive R&B venues as contributing factors in the end of the MBMA. "Everyone has retreated to basement studios," he says. "And that causes the acts to not develop." Both the awards and Rhodes's cable radio station, WRNB Radio (check out their Web site:, helped Top 40 crooners NEXT get noticed, and the potential next NEXTs of Minneapolis will miss the MBMA.

This weekend's lineup features a plethora of talented lesser-knowns: On Friday at the Fine Line Music Cafe, the R&B showcase begins at 6 p.m. and features headliners Elusion, Shawn J., Vanguard, Daddy I, Red Bone Ruby, and the Brown Pletcher Band. On Saturday, the Twin Cities showcase runs from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Theodore Wirth Park, and features hip-hop comers Chosen Few, Yotman, and Li'l Buddy, along with the MBMA All-star Gospel Performers, The Scott Price Project, and Tribe of Millions.

Sunday's awards show takes place at International Market Square and is hosted by Channel 9's anchor Robyne Robinson. It runs from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and features Kathleen Bradley and Best Kept Secret, Dennis Spears, James Greer and Company, and City Song Kids. The program benefits the National Marrow Donor Program. (Call 341-2447 or 989-5151 for more information.)

Rap with Rakim contest

Rakim loaded a special chamber in the hearts of hip hoppers everywhere well before he combined "Rakim" and "MC" into a single word--"Rah-kemma-cee"--on 1988's "Follow the Leader." The middle-school master even surprised Source editors accustomed to fickle audiences by topping their January "Greatest MC" poll. So this local contest, with a daunting 60 contestants, has more riding on it than merely a sweet gig: It's the competitors' chance to follow (or rather, get followed by) the leader of modern lyric-spieling. It's also an ingenious way of passing the buck in choosing opening acts for Rakim's July 6 show at First Avenue. (Several A&R-reps-cum-judges have been confirmed for the task of paneling.) The $3 admission is more than worth an afternoon's look at the best in local mic-play, DJing, and break dancing. The tryouts happen Sunday from noon to 7 p.m. at First Avenue. Call 781-1005 if you want to enter the contest; otherwise, call 338-8388 for more information.

Covers of the month

* Willie Murphy and the Angel-Headed Hipsters doing the New Orleans standard "Junco Partner" at the Viking Bar on May 22: Beer-battered funk played by guys with patience enough not to force the groove. It's moments like this that give the Viking its lifeblood.

* The Mercuries doing the theme song from The Jeffersons at the 400 Bar on May 27: TV's best-known gospel song sounds just as good with a country twang, evoking the upward mobility of urban Appalachians rather than New York blacks.

* Against All Authority doing the Dead Kennedys' "Moon Over Marin" at the Whole Music Club on May 27: The youngsters in the crowd probably didn't know the words to this DK tune (done ska-core style), and while I watched the Authority work it out, I suddenly felt very old.

* All the Pretty Horses doing David Bowie's "Space Oddity" at the 7th Street Entry on May 31: Kind of a natural for these gender benders, but a needed breather after a flaming drum solo.

* Trailer Trash doing Desmond Dekker's "Israelites" at Lee's Liquor Lounge on June 3: Dekker's early-reggae classic rendered as country-reggae; finally the line "You catch me in the barn/You sound the alarm" is given the context it deserves.

* Semisonic doing Prince's "Take Me With U" at First Avenue on June 7: Not only is bassist John Munson as good a singer as Dan Wilson, but with that 'stache, he's better looking.

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